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The Loire Valley is home of the longest river in France which flows from the south near the Mediterranean coast and empties into the Atlantic. Throughout its journey lie some of the most picturesque châteaux, monasteries, churches and small historic villages showcasing one of France’s most diverse wine regions.
If you want to do a family tree on a name, well, try this: Loire comes from Latin Liger, a transcription of the native tongue Gaulishs (Celtic), which was the name of the river. The Gaulish name comes from its word Liga, meaning “Silt, sediment, deposit”, and then the French translated it to Lie, as in “sur lie”, which in turn gave English the word “less”. Liga, the Proto-Inot-European root legh—meaning “to lie, lay” which gave English words such as lie, to lay, ledge, law, etc…. Phew….
The immense wine production in the Loire Valley includes over 60 appellations that include every style of wine. Red, white, rosé, sparkling, sweet, dry and everything in between. The style of living and eating in the Loire Valley is as French as France gets, with the juice of Loire Valley grapes being the most popular wines ordered by restaurants in France.
When you enjoy a nice bottle of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, or Chablis, you are talking about the sound, aromas and taste of the Loire Valley. Sancerre, one of the greatest testaments to Sauvignon Blanc, sits on a hilltop dominating the local landscape, overlooking fourteen communes eligible for the appellation “Sancerre”. Although known for its whites, Sancerre also has 100% Pinot Noir for its reds. Maim Bray and Cravingly are small villages, part of the Sancerre community, that not only have great vino but also produce goat cheeses that are celebrated throughout France. Caillottes (chalky soils) and terres blanches (limestone and clay) terroir create the signature bouquet and taste of these luscious whites. Lieu-dit (translates to “vineyard name”) indicates the smallest piece of land which has a vineyard name attached to it. Same terroir but small parcels that produce world-class vino.
Sancerre is one of the best known wines from Loire, producing the most imitated Sauvignon Blanc wines in the world. The chalk and flint soils are ideal for fresh, fruity Sauvignon Blanc and perfumed, elegant Pinot Noir. The Loire also has one of the least known wines in France called Pouilly-sur-Loire, a blend made from the Chasselas grape and Sauvignon Blanc, that is favored by the locals. Some of the classic descriptions of the fab whites from Loire Valley are: Smoky, minerally, gunflinty, grassy and grapefruit.
Pouilly-Fumé, situated just across the river from Sancerre, is known for balanced, structured white wines. Sauvignon Blanc is also known locally as Blanc Fumé, for the grey, smoke-colored bloom that grows on the skins of Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Back in the ’70s I used to go to the liquor store for my favorite bottle of Mateus or Lancers Rosé. I know, I know….but back then that bottle of Mateus made a great candle holder, especially when the wax dripped down the sides.
Rosé wines from the Loire Valley are another story because the “Loire” gives Rosé a first-class cachet. Situated around the village of Angers, the Anjou region of the Loire Valley produces world-class Rosé wines with Cabernet Franc being the primary grape. Most of the higher quality Rosé wines are labeled with the AOC designation Anjou-Villages. The celebrated sweet wines of the Loire Valley come from Anjou; examples are Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux, and one of its most unusual dry white wines, Savennières, all of which are made completely from Chenin Blanc.
Champagne, as we know, is from Champagne, France. That being said, the commune of Saumur is the third largest sparkling wine appellation in France. Saumur Mousse, a somewhat lesser sparkling, still ships over 12 million bottles a year—once again showing the diversity of the Loire Valley.
Eating oysters is a learned experience, but eating oysters while enjoying a Loire Valley Melon de Bourgogne (Muscatel) wine is a learned experience enjoyed around the world. The Muscadet grape has a bracing sea tang worthy of the coast of France. The grapes of the Loire will always have the magic of the moment, such grapes as: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Cabernet Franc. Also included are Pinot Noir, Gamay, Malbec and to a lesser degree some unusual grapes of Romorantin, Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau. The river’s 300-mile length allows it to meander through several distinct climates and a wide variety of soils making 5 distinct regions, each with its own varietals and wine styles. Such grapes as:
- Chenin Blanc or as the locals call it “Pineau de la Loire”: a grape that came to the Loire Valley over a thousand years ago. It reaches its glory in a one-hundred-mile stretch of the Loire Valley between Blois and Savennières.
- Grolleau (Groslot): a red grape grown only in the Loire Valley. High in acid, it is mainly used as a blending grape in sparkling and rosé wines.
- Cabernet Franc or as the locals call it “Breton”: The main grape of the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine region, it is a cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Muscadet: The largest white wine appellation in France including its sub-regions: Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire and Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu. Under strict guidelines each winery must get an official tasting board imprimatur before it can use the appellation.
- Romorantin: This grape, unique to the Loire, is little known outside of the Valley. Used in the blending of refreshing, fragrant whites made around the village of Cheverny. Cour-Cheverny is a designation for wines made completely from Romorantin.
- Pineau d’Aunis: Grown only in the Loire Valley, used in blends in Touraine, it makes a light-bodied red.
The “Garden of France” or the Loire Valley has been in the hearts of millions of people since Saint Martin first made wine in 380. The gentle pace of life, the tables topped with luscious food and wine from the Valley make it the natural home of poets, singers and farmers with dirt firmly ingrained in their fingernails. So, when my ship comes in you will find me under that tree over there, right by the bubbling brook with a cool bottle of Sancerre and a picnic basket; care to join me?
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